Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Apple

Apple started a new carrier war

iPhone 12

Good morning! This Monday, the iPhone 12 is reigniting the carrier wars, Mark Zuckeberg gets political and China's tightening export rules.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

The carrier wars are back

It's been a while since anyone really cared about their cell carrier. They all work together, they all have the phones everyone wants, they all have roughly the same coverage in roughly the same places. When Sprint's advertising that it's only 1% worse than Verizon yet much cheaper, you know your market's mature.

But everything's suddenly back in play as the industry moves toward 5G. Did you notice the iPhone 12 has a slightly different price tag, depending on who you buy it from? Or that if you're willing to upgrade your plan and trade in your old phone, you can buy an iPhone 12 for next to nothing?

  • Carriers are desperate to get everyone on 5G, so they can start seeing a return on their investment — and stop supporting now-legacy tech — as soon as possible.
  • They also see it as a rare chance to make people switch carriers. I don't know about you, but I'm 18 years deep on Verizon, just because they're all the same and switching is annoying. But everyone's promoting better service and cheaper phones — a very 2010 playbook — to entice people to move. (I'm sticking with Verizon: 5G's mostly not real yet and switching is still annoying.)

Things have been heating up here even since T-Mobile bought Sprint and then Dish got involved, and now 5G potentially comes with the first opportunity in at least a half-decade to remake the industry.

If this is indeed an upgrade supercycle for the iPhone, if anyone does actually give a crap about 5G yet, if carriers can successfully grab people looking to upgrade, a lot could change fast. But that's a lot of ifs.


Mark Zuckerberg's political adventures

The story everybody was talking about all weekend: The Wall Street Journal's epic dive into Mark Zuckerberg's newfound willingness to play politics. I mentioned it in yesterday's newsletter, but let's dig a bit deeper.

  • After so many years of studiously avoiding anything that looked like politics, the WSJ reported, Zuckerberg has spent the last few years cultivating relationships and learning the ropes in Washington. This fact will surprise precisely nobody.
  • More surprising: A lot of Zuck's moves have been defense (or preemptive defense, if that's a thing) in conservative circles. He's dined with Trump, spent time with Ben Shapiro and "lectured Facebook's broadly left-leaning staff about the need to understand that their user base is more conservative."

The piece said Facebook tweaked its News Feed algorithm specifically to deprioritize "left-leaning sites," including Mother Jones. Clara Jeffery, Mother Jones' editor-in-chief, called Facebook "a toxic cesspool" that is "directly implicated in everything tearing our country apart" after seeing the story.

  • Facebook obviously denied the allegations that it favors one side over the other. But Zuckerberg, ever the practical thinker, may have seen that remaining above the fray didn't work once Facebook had more or less become the fray.

Zuckerberg's moves match Facebook's policies, in a way: A little late, a little haphazard, designed less around a specific worldview than an attempt to just make life a little easier. According to the Journal — and according to everything you see with your eyes every single day — it's not working. It's driving a wedge between Facebook and both parties, and even between Zuckerberg and the rest of his team.

Relatedly:Facebook said it's rejected 2.2 million ads for violating political campaigning rules, with misinformation warnings applied to 150 million pieces of content.


Who controls Chinese tech? China

The ByteDance back-and-forth always looked like a small sign of bigger things to come; that China was going to find more ways to exert control over the companies and tech created inside its borders.

  • Now, a new law gives its government export control over a huge number of industries in an effort to protect national security. It includes everything from the military to technology and even the catch-all of "resources."
  • It's apparently designed as a lever for payback: "China may take countermeasures against any country or region that abuses export-control measures and poses a threat to China's national security and interests, according to the law," a state-run media organization said.

The law goes into effect Dec. 1, and the government said it'll have a more concrete list of protected industries and items soon. Nikkei reported that some people are worried rare-earth metals could be on the list, which would be trouble for manufacturers everywhere.

This is all part of the broad (and now very long) fight between the U.S. and China over trade and technology. Both sides are betting they can function and innovate without the other. I don't think both sides are going to be right.

Relatedly:The EU is reportedly set to make it harder to export certain "dual use" technologies, including hacking software and facial recognition systems. And India has warned Amazon and Flipkart that they have two weeks to enforce a rule that demands sellers display the country of origin of products.



Strengthening healthcare interoperability and cybersecurity in the COVID era

A stronger healthcare system means connecting people, data and technology for a frictionless experience across care settings. At Philips, we're developing interoperable solutions that seamlessly transfer data so clinicians can stay focused on what matters most: the patient.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

Airbnb has had a rough 2020, but it's still a force of a company, Scott Galloway said:

  • "Google searches reflect that Airbnb has eclipsed the equity of century-old brands, in one decade, across markets big and small. While competitors may have equity in a specific market, no brand sits on the iron throne across all markets as Airbnb does."

Mozilla's Robert Long really wanted someone to jailbreak the Oculus Quest 2:

  • "I'm still offering $5,000 for a Quest 2 jailbreak! Jailbreakers, DM me. Let's break free of FB's anti-competitive, anti-privacy ecosystem!"
  • Even Palmer Luckey himself chimed in: "I will match this, who else is in?"
  • The money seems to have worked: Long said someone has already claimed to have done it.

Ajit Pai may want the FCC to weigh in on Section 230, but Tom Wheeler said there's no real threat there:

  • "The Trump administration practices government by performance. They come out and they beat their chests and they say we're gonna do this on 230, and we're gonna do that on the digital divide. But it's chest-pounding, not policy. There's a difference between showbiz and substance."

Coming Up

Qualcomm's 5G Summit is this week, as the company tries to keep making the case for the new tech. (Here's hoping Qualcomm does it better than Apple did.) Adobe Max is also this week, where we'll get the latest on all things Creative Cloud.

Conference Season continues! Two good ones this week: EmTech from MIT Technology Review, and WSJ Tech Live.

Netflix, Snap, IBM, Intel and Tesla all report earnings this week.

Let's be real, though: We're 15 days from the election, which means that's pretty much all anyone's going to talk about between now and then.

In Other News

  • Marc Brown is leaving Microsoft. No replacement has been announced for the M&A boss, who oversaw the LinkedIn, Nokia and ZeniMax acquisitions.
  • Alibaba bought control of a grocery chain. It spent $3.6 billion to almost double its stake in Sun Art, which operates 481 stores in China.
  • Mark and Jack might be about to spend a lot of time before Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote tomorrow on whether Zuck should testify alongside Dorsey about what happened with the New York Post article last week. The two are also confirmed to testify to the Senate Commerce Committee on Section 230 next week, alongside Sundar Pichai.
  • International antitrust efforts are ramping up. Japan said it will work with the U.S. and Europe to regulate Big Tech, while the chief of the U.K.'s regulator said he would take action against Facebook and Google within a year unless the government sets up a new regulatory regime.
  • Amazon might be growing its telehealth division. New business development job listings suggest that Amazon Care, currently only available to Amazon employees and their dependents, is now targeting other companies.
  • Larry Ellison donated $250,000 to a Sen. Lindsey Graham-supporting super PAC. Earlier in the year, Graham said he called Trump to encourage him to allow an American company to buy TikTok.
  • Uber might sell some of its air taxi business, Axios reports. The company is also reportedly considering strategic partnerships for the Elevate unit.

One More Thing

No 'bones' about it

Your latest reminder that maybe algorithms don't have everything figured out yet: During a virtual conference for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, attendees found that the chat software they used filtered out words like hell, knob, stream, pubis and bone. I think you could safely argue that the word "bone" is sort of important to a huge group of paleontologists. If you know what I mean.



Strengthening healthcare interoperability and cybersecurity in the COVID era

A stronger healthcare system means connecting people, data and technology for a frictionless experience across care settings. At Philips, we're developing interoperable solutions that seamlessly transfer data so clinicians can stay focused on what matters most: the patient.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

The best of Protocol

The confessions of SBF

Your holiday book list

A tale of two FTXs